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   June 13, 2002 | 1900 IST


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Croatia lose to Ecuador, bow out

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Bill Barclay

Croatia stumbled out of the World Cup when they crashed 1-0 to battling South American debutants Ecuador in their final group G match.

The 1998 semi-finalists, who beat group rivals Italy 2-1 in their last game, were unable to lift themselves as Ecuador recorded their first World Cup finals win thanks to Edison Mendez's sharp 48th-minute finish.

Croatia's best effort was an Alen Boksic shot after 34 minutes that shaved a post.

Croatia went into the match knowing a two-goal win would guarantee their passage but made little headway in the first half, with only the movement of the experienced Boksic posing any real threat.

Ecuador's Carlos Tenorio (L) and Croatia's Mario Stanic jump for the ball.The 32-year-old turned sharply to direct one effort on to the post after 34 minutes and, on the stroke of halftime, hooked a fine Milan Rapaic pass goalwards only for Ecuador defender Augusto Porozo to head clear with his goalkeeper beaten.

With the group in a state of flux, Mexico's 1-0 halftime lead over Italy meant the point would be good enough for Croatia. But Ecuador were not out of it either, knowing a 3-0 victory would also put them through.

With this in mind, Gomez brought on Alex Aguinaga after 40 minutes, despite the fact that the inspirational midfielder is barely fit due to a thigh problem.

The South Americans, who only had an outside chance of qualifying themselves, stunned Croatia by taking the lead three minutes after the start of the second half.

Ulises De la Cruz crossed from the right and when Agustin Delgado headed the ball down, Mendez lashed it past Stipe Pletikosa in the Croatia goal.

Mirko Jovic's Croatia vainly drove forward in search of an equaliser but Ecuador's defensive line held firm to leave the team from the Balkans heartbroken.

In the second group G match, which was played at the same time, Italy and Mexico drew 1-1 to qualify for the second round.

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